WASHINGTON — Republican and Democratic governors don’t agree on much in the healthcare space but when it comes to opioids there is consensus: Real dollars are needed.
Governors Ask Congress for More $$$ for Opioid Epidemic
Governors pressed senators for more funding to help tackle the opioid epidemic, as well as flexibility for states in tailoring spending to suit their specific needs, during a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee on Thursday.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) thanked Congress for the $6 billion secured in its budget agreement to fight the opioid and heroin crisis, but “it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what we actually need,” he said.
Maryland, a small state, has already spent $500 million to battle the opioid epidemic alone, he continued.
“Six billion stretched across the country is not going to go very far … It’s the long-term recovery support services that we’re going to need a way to pay for.”
HHS Chief Wants to Lighten Data Collection Burdens
In an ideal world, providers would be able to spend less time collecting quality data and more time actually improving the quality of care, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar said here Thursday.
“We need to ensure that in the quest for information on quality, we don’t have providers, payers, or others spend so much time accumulating data to improve reporting that they’re not actually improving quality,” Azar said during a press briefing with reporters at HHS headquarters.
“Let’s make sure it’s the information that really matters; let’s have the minimal necessary reporting burden to get the job done to ensure we’re providing actionable information for decision-makers for quality, price, and value. There have been so many [reporting] burdens, especially for solo practitioners … If needed, so be it, but let’s make sure it serves the purpose.”
CMS Aims to Give Patients Access to Health Records
The Trump administration launched a program Tuesday aimed at giving patients more control over their own healthcare records.
The initiative, called MyHealthEData, “will help to break down the barriers that prevent patients from having electronic access and true control of their own health records from the device or application of their choice,” the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) said in a press release. “Patients will be able to choose the provider that best meets their needs and then give that provider secure access to their data, leading to greater competition and reducing costs.”
Patients deserve to receive an electronic copy of their health record and to “be able to share their data with whomever they want, making the patient the center of the healthcare system,” the release continued. “Patients can use their information to actively seek out providers and services that meet their unique healthcare needs, have a better understanding of their overall health, prevent disease, and make more informed decisions about their care.”
As part of the initiative, CMS Administrator Seema Verma also on Tuesday announced a Medicare patient records initiative known as Blue Button 2.0. In her prepared remarks, Verma said that although Medicare patients have for a long time had the ability to download their health information from the CMS Blue Button site, what they got was in the form of an Excel spreadsheet or a PDF file, “without any context or help in understanding what the data is telling them.”
Novel HIV Drug OK’d
A first-in-class agent for HIV infection targeting the CD4 protein ibalizumab-uiyk (Trogarzo), won FDA approval Tuesday, the agency announced.
The intravenous biologic drug is indicated for adults with multidrug-resistant HIV infection who have previously failed to respond to other agents.
In binding to the CD4 molecule on T cells, ibalizumab helps prevent HIV from entering the cells. It’s the first monoclonal antibody for treating HIV infection to win FDA approval, and the first to target CD4-mediated viral entry.
Approval was based primarily on a 40-patient trial in heavily pretreated HIV-infected individuals. Some 43% of patients achieved undetectable viral load when ibalizumab was given with at least one other active drug. About half achieved viral loads less than 200 copies per mL.
Gottlieb Pushes for Biosimilars
Insurers and others can help educate practitioners about biosimilar medications and share rebate drug cost savings with consumers, to improve access and adherence to innovative biologic drugs, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, said here Wednesday.
Addressing the annual policy conference sponsored by America’s Health Insurance Plans, the chief trade group for private insurers, Gottlieb spoke for nearly 30 minutes, primarily about the obstacles preventing more affordable biosimilars from getting into patients’ hands; he faulted insurers and drug manufacturers alike.
“Patient access to these innovations will depend on reforms,” Gottlieb said, encouraging parties in American healthcare “to deliver the best medical outcomes … doing this with the long run in mind and patients at the heart of what we do.”
Initiative Aims to Help Veterans with Mental Illness
A private veterans’ group is joining with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to try to help mentally ill veterans who have fallen through the cracks in the system.
“We all hear about 20 [veterans] a day that take their own life … or [those who] become incarcerated without first receiving the support and treatment they need, which should include mental health services,” Lana McKenzie, RN, chief medical executive of AMVETS (American Veterans), a group that represents the interests of 20 million veterans, said at a press briefing here Tuesday. “Today we’re here to change that.”
The multi-pronged initiative, called Healthcare Evaluation, Advocacy, and Legislation (HEAL), involves reaching out to veterans through a series of town halls, round tables, and other public forums. AMVETS is hiring case managers to work with the veterans and get them connected to healthcare services inside or outside of the VA, whichever is appropriate. The organization is also launching a hotline, 833-VET-HEAL, on March 19th for veterans to reach out for help that way. AMVETS will work with the VA to coordinate services for the veterans they help through the initiative.
On Tuesday, the American Enterprise Institute will discuss the “numbers behind the opioid crisis.”
On Wednesday, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs will discuss opioids.
On Thursday, the Senate HELP Committee will explore differing views on the 340B drug program.
And the House Committee on Appropriations will hold a FY2019 Budget Hearing concerning HHS.